The Science of Self-LoveJul 04, 2022
Imagine if everyone on the planet loved themselves. I’m talking about a full body YES love themselves…all 7.8 billion of us. That all of us – including you – woke up in the morning and when we caught our reflection in the mirror, we said “I love you” and meant it from the bottom of our hearts. As we went through our day, all our actions echoed this love. I think it’s fair to say that our world would be transformed. It would be totally unrecognizable. This isn’t just hippie woo-woo stuff. There is scientific evidence that the practice of self-love benefits our health and can serve as a powerful motivator to accomplish our goals. I am living proof of this. Read on to learn more about the science of self-love and how you can apply it in your life.
“Keep your inner world loving and hopeful, and your outer world will begin to reflect exactly that.” – Cleo Wade
Self-Love Saved My Life
In 2012, I was working 90 hours a week as a neuroscience graduate student at the University of Iowa. I never scheduled breaks for myself. I didn’t practice any form of self-care. If I managed to do the basic hygiene requirements for the day, that was a win. The voice in my head wasn’t any kinder. In fact, it was mean. When I messed up or made a mistake, my head would yell things like “you’re an idiot”, or “you’re stupid”. I felt like I had to constantly prove myself. I didn’t feel worthy or good enough no matter how hard I worked. I would often brag to my friends about my 90-hour work week.
The truth is, this kind of brutal, negative motivation and over-working – essentially mental and physical abuse of myself – is pretty common in our society. At the time, I didn’t know any better. Negative motivation was the only thing I knew and I saw many people around me living the same way.
My wake up call came in the form of a terminal diagnosis at the age of 28. I had literally put my life on the line with overworking, negative motivation, and self-loathing. This was my turning point. I decided to apply my gift for studying and learning to the most important subject of my life: how to practice self-love. As I began to dig, I discovered some pretty fascinating research.
Research and The Science of Self-Love
Are you ready to nerd out? Based on a study by the Queens University in Canada, the average human has over 6,000 thoughts a day, and a whopping 80% of those thoughts are negative. Eighty percent! That is nothing to sneeze at. The Nobel Prize winning scientist Dr. Elizabeth Blackburn found in her research that our cells are listening to those thoughts…and this has real consequences for our health. Simply put, negative thoughts are interpreted as stress by our cells. Stress causes the ends of our DNA (called telomeres) to weaken and break down. The result is that we age faster and become more susceptible to illness as a direct consequence of our negative thoughts. Read Dr. Blackburn’s article to learn more.
Negative Motivation, Negative Shmotivation
If punishment, shame, and blame worked as motivation, then every single person on this planet would pay their taxes on time. They would be perfect drivers. Prisons wouldn’t be full of reoffenders.
Yet, negative thinking often factors heavily into the way we try to motivate ourselves to reach goals or make changes in our lives. How many times have you tried to punish, shame, or blame yourself into losing weight, exercising, or achieving a business or career goal? Did it work? How did you feel afterwards? I know from my personal experience, it doesn’t feel good. It feels awful.
I’m happy to report that there is another way to motivate yourself and it’s scientifically proven! Hang on, because we are about to get even nerdier…
Your Brain, Self-Love, and Motivation
In the human brain, we have a sweet spot called the frontostriatal pathway. Never heard of it? It connects two extremely important areas in the brain – our prefrontal cortex and the ventral striatum. The prefrontal cortex is the home of self-knowledge and governs functions like impulse control, reasoning, ethics, and empathy, while the ventral striatum is the home of our motivation and rewards system.
A study by Dartmouth College identified the frontostriatal pathway as the area in the brain responsible for self-love and self-esteem. When this pathway is highly active, individuals experience strong feelings of self-love and self-acceptance. This research has shown that the more self-love we express and feel, the more likely we are to feel motivated and reward ourselves for our achievements. Self-love – not shame and blame – is the key to accomplishing our goals. Holy cow.
The Self-Love Ripple Effect
Practicing self-love creates a positive feedback loop in our brain. The more we talk lovingly to ourselves and practice acts of self-love and self-care, the more motivated we are. The more motivated we are, the more we succeed and reward ourselves, which feeds even more feelings of self-love and motivation. It doesn’t stop there.
As shining beacons of self-love and motivation, we radiate love outwards to everyone around us, creating a positive ripple effect through our family, friends, community, and beyond. As I mentioned in the beginning of this post, self-love really can transform the world. Do you believe me now?
“Love is the great miracle cure. Loving ourselves works miracles in our lives. ” —Louise L. Hay
How To Practice Self-Love – A Few Tips to Get You Started
Does the science of self-love inspire you to start loving yourself more? As you begin to mindfully practice self-love, know that it can feel weird at first. It can bring up strong emotions as we exit our comfort zone to try new behaviors and face limiting beliefs head on. The good news is, you don’t have to morph into the queen of perfect self-love and self-care overnight. In fact, striving for “perfection” in our practice of self-love can be ironically counter intuitive. Here are a few simple acts of self-love that you can start practicing right now:
- Watch your thoughts and internal dialogue for negativity. Simple awareness is an act of self-love.
- Listen to how you talk about yourself out loud to the people in your life. This can be your clients, friends, or family. Do you use a lot of self-deprecating humor or make negative comments about yourself?
- Make mindful choices to add positive thoughts to your internal dialogue. Cheer yourself on, compliment yourself, and comfort yourself. Actively practicing a kind and loving inner voice is easier than trying to just get our inner critic to “shut up!”.
- Make mindful choices to use more positive words when talking about ourselves to clients, friends, and family. How we speak influences others. We model behavior in all our relationships, even in our business. We can set the tone to be one of self-love.
- Celebrate your achievements and successes, even if they are small wins. Share them with others. Reward yourself with something that feels good to you.
- Make time in your schedule for rest and relaxation. Remember, you are a human being, not a human doing.
- Make a list of activities that bring you joy that you can do just for fun…then try one out!
Do these self-love practices resonate with you? There’s a lot more where this came from! I offer self-love coaching and courses too. Learn more here.
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